I can remember my first breakup vividly. It had been a whirlwind relationship. We had met outside a concert one evening, and the attraction was there immediately. Just a few short months later, I was completely enamored. The time passed by in bliss. We would spend hours together, just the two of us, finding meaning in the most minute details of life and music (is there a difference?). Then, after a year or so, things began to grow strained. We had both changed too much, grown too far apart. While reflecting on the old times still held enjoyment, it did nothing to alter how I felt. It was then that I decided to stop regularly listening to Aiden.
I had first discovered them in eighth grade, having been handed a Victory Records compilation CD after a Green Day concert in Portland, Ore. Upon listening to “Die Romantic” and “The Last Sunrise,” I was hooked. I was drawn to the band’s blend of pop sensibilities with dark lyrics and imagery, thinking that it would vicariously transfer over to me and make me appear edgy and tragic in the eyes of my teenage peers. I wanted to be the height of antisocial cool, and Aiden seemed like the perfect stepping stone to reach that lofty level. That is, until they released their third record, “Conviction.”
The first time listening to that album was the beginning of the breakup. Gone were the hardcore and punk influences, replaced by the worst imitations of The Cure and Joy Division that sounded less like an innovation for Aiden and more of a sad, misguided attempt to mimic two legendary bands. The record might have been saved if the songs were catchier, but most suffered from weak hooks and even worse production. They created less of a wall of sound than a wall of indistinguishable noise that might have been made by instruments, but could just have easily been Mr. Magoo crashing into guitars and trying to find a melody out of the result. When the band did actually return to a more straightforward playing style, they also cut down their already somewhat limited subject matter as well. Even after seeing them play a fantastic live set one summer, I was done with them.
Since starting college, I haven’t listened to any new material from Aiden. I still sometimes put on their second major release, “Nightmare Anatomy,” but it is a bitter-sweet experience each time I do. Aiden was one of the bands that got me through some troubled times in my earlier years, both real issues and those dreamt up by my angsty teenage psyche, and it hurt when their new material held no meaning for me other than nostalgia. Fortunately I found new genres I had never even heard of, some that I still avidly listen to today.
“Breaking up” with a favorite band is never easy, but if you identify why you are drifting away from a particular group or artist, you can find a way to patch up as best you can the hole they left behind, and lessen the jolt of pain every time you see their name while scrolling through your music library. There are a few primary reasons for a break up, and most have fairly straightforward solutions. One of the most common causes of a musical split between artists and one of their fans is…
The Band Changes Their Sound and/or Direction Too Much
This may, arguably, be one of the primary reasons an artist or group will lose listeners over time. Innovation and avoiding stagnation are signs of a strong band, but if they go too far in a different direction or move too quickly, they increase the risk of alienating a portion of their audience. While it is never right to set limits on artists (within reason), the reception of new material needs to be a factor when entering the creative process, especially for established acts.
Luckily, this is one of the easier breakups to get over. With our nearly unlimited access to new music, finding a different band that is similar stylistically to your old favorite should not prove too taxing. Online resources that allow you to pinpoint a specific sound that you are looking for, such as iTunes Radio and Songza, are excellent when trying to discover new artists, and for those of us who still like to purchase CDs, checking which bands are thanked in the liner notes can give listeners a good idea of where to start on their search for a replacement. While not necessarily easy, at least it is not as hard when you realize…
The Band Keeps Releasing the Same Song or Album Over and Over Again
This problem can also be called AC/DC syndrome. Yes, they have recorded some classic works that will always be a hallmark of hard rock history, but almost no one outside of the hardcore fans can name more than a couple albums other than “Back in Black” or “Highway to Hell,” and even fewer know other songs other than the singles, because Angus Young and company have been essentially releasing the same album repeatedly since “High Voltage,” distinguishable only by a change in lead singer (rest in peace, Bon Scott). Yes, it can be incredibly difficult to follow up a successful and/or innovative album, but the vast majority of the time trying to repeat past works will not prove fruitful. Green Day, Mumford and Sons – even pop culture titans such as Jay Z are guilty of this (some more than others, “American Gangster” is fantastic and can hold its own against the classic “pre-retirement” albums).
Realizing that a band is doing the same thing over and over can be difficult to overcome. On one hand, they are still playing the same type of music we enjoy, but on the other, we hold them to a high standard and expect better of them. Finding the sound you are looking for in this instance can prove challenging, but not impossible. Again, looking to an artist’s contemporaries and influences is the way to go, though it may take a bit more research than merely typing a genre or artist into a music service’s search engine. Try to find similar bands who successfully grew as musicians from one album to another, check out older acts that inspired today’s young guns or listen to a band or genre that overlaps somewhat with your old flame, but is distinct enough to be a refreshing change of sonic scenery. At least there is an immediate solution to a lack of growth in a band. There is one cause of a breakup that might be the most difficult to get over, and that is…
You Grow Up
Allow me to explain this simple statement. Until my senior year of high school, I refused to listen to anything other than punk, metal, hard rock, some alternative rock and rap. However, as time wore on, I found myself humming along to Top 40 radio, even outright enjoying some of the music. Fifteen-year-old me would have been ashamed of his counterpart three years his senior, blasting Jay Sean on the way to school. At the same time, long-time favorites like Iron Maiden and Slipknot popped up less and less on my playlists, to the point where I almost stopped listening to them entirely. I had grown up considerably in my tastes, but something was lost as well. Yes, I still enjoy Maiden and I think I always will, but I cannot enjoy them the same way, just as I do not seek out new bands akin to Killswitch Engage or A Day To Remember, even if I still check out their new releases. They become old friends that remind me of good times and maybe recorded a catchy song here and there, but other than a few exceptions do not move me as they used to.
This is the most difficult breakup, because the fault is with you – the listener – and not the band. There is nothing you could have done to stop the change other than to refuse to listen to anything new, and then you are simply punishing yourself for something that usually happens naturally. People’s tastes do not remain stationary, especially in music. It sounds cliche, but as we get older, some songs and artists simply become harder to listen to, or their words and music lose the magic that captured our ears in the first place. This is not limited to music either: the same pattern can be found in movies, books, television – even friendships and relationships with family members. Sometimes, growing up means growing apart, and the things we used to love seem diminished. Much like Stan Marsh in South Park’s “You’re Getting Old,” things just look and sound like turds (you can see what I mean here).
I have no ready solution for this condition, other than to keep trying new artists and genres. Maybe it will work right away, maybe it won’t. Not a huge ray of sunshine, I know, but it is the best advice I have. I won’t patronize or try to soften the blow by saying, “A person can always find a new artist to love,” because not everyone needs to hear that, and it might not always be true. Breaking up with a favorite band, like with people, is rarely easy, and ultimately we have to deal with it in our own ways. Just try not to be too cynical about it.
Jack Butcher is a senior history major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WklyJButcher.